As a doctor, I’m bound by doctor-patient privilege to not disclose the specifics of what I’m about to tell you. But as a human being, I feel compelled to share. This is, without a doubt, the most horrific story I’ve ever had the displeasure of being a part of.
It was 2009, and my schedule that day was light. I was just finishing up my lunch when I got a call from a friend and colleague who had his own practice in the same building as me. Sometimes we would send work each other’s way when we knew the other could use it. I was a bit elated at the prospect of him calling me because I had just been going over my books and stressing a bit.
“Are you busy right now? I’d like to send someone up to you,” he said.
I saw something back in 1990 that has haunted me ever since.
We were a boy scout troop of sixteen boys between the ages of 13 and 17, going on a two-day hike along a trail that ran sixty miles from Richmond to Marion in Indiana. Three adults supervised us the entire way. They gathered us up on the north side of town one Friday after school in late September, checked our supplies and gear, then off we marched.
Most of the journey that evening followed an old, abandoned railroad track through farmers’ fields. We managed to reach a small bit of forested area just before it got dark, and we pitched tents there, gathered wood for a fire and had our meals. After we ate, the grown-ups got out a couple bags of marshmallows to roast and we all sat around the fire where people had a chance to tell ghost stories.
The door chimes as a punk-looking teenager takes a peek inside. He’s got a stripe of green in his hair, a skateboard under his arm and the words, “MAGNUM OPIATE” splashed across his shirt. I suspect it’s the name of some shitty band.
"Are you open?"
"Yeah, but don’t try anything."
Behind him, a burning man stumbles down the sidewalk, waving his arms frantically. Nobody stops to help put him out. Normally, I would, but considering the riots and chaos going on today, I can’t really take the chance and leave the store unattended, even for a moment. I already had to pull the metal blinds down when a pair of girls in school uniforms threw a concrete block through one of the windows. I’d spent the next hour cleaning up glass.
I’ll never forget the summer of 1986. My father’s company sent him overseas to supervise the set up of their new office in Madrid. It had always just been my father and me, but the company would only pay for his accommodations, so it was decided that I would spend the summer with my grandparents in Missouri.
Grandpa Roy was a retired pastor. He had a giant, gray beard and unkempt hair and always reminded me of Dan Haggerty as Grizzly Adams. It seemed like he always had on a red and black tartan work shirt and a scowl. Grandma Babs told me once that he only smiled on Sunday, but I must have never been around when that happened.
Grandma Babs had been a school teacher. She had an anecdote regarding her years teaching for everything that ever came up. Sometimes, she’d tell me stories about the kids she taught that I’d really not want to hear; personal aspects of their lives that I could have gone without ever knowing. She was a thin woman, but had a kindly face that counteracted Grandpa Roy’s permanent frown.
I received a troubling letter in the mail the other day. It was from my friend, Olivia. The thing is, I’m flying out in just a few days to attend her funeral. The reasons for her death are kind of complicated, made more so by the contents of her letter. I thought I understood why she chose to take her life, but after reading her last letter to me, I just don’t know anymore.
You might be wondering why Olivia would write to me. What relationship did we have? We were best friends back in high school and that’s really about it. Call it cowardice on my part that I never “officially” told her how I felt. Maybe deep down she knew, but didn’t want to lose what we had. I was fine with that. We remained best friends even when college moved us hundreds of miles apart. Even when she met “the love of her life” —a guy named Greg— she wrote me every week, and I wrote back. We both graduated, she and Greg got an apartment out east, I briefly moved back in with my folks while searching for a job, but through it all, every week I got a letter from Olivia, and a day later I’d mail one back.
Last month, Olivia called me. I knew before even picking up the phone that something was wrong. She would never have called me unless she was in serious trouble or distress and needed someone special to talk to. She was barely understandable through the sobbing and the bursts of crying.
A year ago, I went to visit an old friend of mine from college named Chris. He lives in Connecticut with his wife Susan and their son Todd. The plan was for us to hang out for a few days, so they had promised to prepare a guest room for me.
When I arrived, Chris took me aside.
"I know we promised you the guest room," he said quietly, "but something’s come up. Susan’s Uncle John just got divorced and she offered him a place to stay until he can find an apartment. He won’t be in our way, but I had to let him have the guest room."
My family lived in Vermont for a number of years, in a small town called Northfield, south of Montpelier.
There’s a local legend in Northfield, of a thing known as the Pigman. The story has multiple versions, as most do, but there are some parts that are always the same. Back in 1951, the night before Halloween, this 17-year old kid named Sam Harris went out on his own with a basket of eggs to cause some mischief. Nobody knows exactly what happened to him, just that he never came home and was never found.
Years later, some high school kids were out drinking behind the school one night during a dance when this… thing… came walking out of the woods on two human legs. It was naked, covered in white hair, and was wearing a hollowed-out pig’s head like some grotesque mask.
It was my friend Tommy’s 11th birthday and my first sleepover. My mom dropped me off at his house in the afternoon. It looked modest from the front, but when Tommy led me inside, I discovered that it was actually fairly big, with at least five large rooms on the first floor alone.
"My mom set us up in the basement." He said, leading the way to a small door just off the kitchen pantry.
I envisioned a dingy cellar like the one my family had. Ours was a single, tiny room that looked like miners were still in the process of digging it out. Nobody spent the night in our basement unless they had eight legs and six eyes and shot webbing out of their ass.
Tommy’s basement was like a whole other house. There was a small room with a couch at the bottom of the stairs, but in the far wall was a swinging door leading into a kitchen almost as big as the one we had just left. In the basement kitchen there was another door leading out to the back yard, and a long hallway that extended deep under the house.
"Jesus," was all I could muster.
"The basement was set up as an apartment to rent out by the people who lived here before us." Tommy explained. He pointed down the dim hallway. "The first door on the left is the bathroom. Second door is a closet. We’ll be sleeping in the bedroom on the right."
I used to work for a marketing firm located in the Back Bay section of Boston. It was a small company, but large enough that we operated on an entire floor of the building we rented, and that I was not familiar with everyone else who worked there. I started in 2007 as part of their web-based media team. For those of you who don’t know anything about the marketing business, it’s very client-driven. A team of producers sell our services to companies, often a little over-zealously, and the designers and developers typically have to work like slaves to meet the producers’ promises. This can mean late nights, taking a cab home because the commuter rail has shut down. It also means coming in on weekends and working late then too.
It was November of 2008, and we had a big promotional site being developed for a rather important client. I’m not at liberty to give out the details surrounding the project, but it’s not relevant to this story anyway. What’s relevant is that the client was pushy, as most are, and the site was complex, so I ended up having to come in on a Saturday and work late into the evening to have something ready to present by Monday. If you’ve ever worked in an office on the weekend, you know just how different and isolated it can feel. There were other people at first, ambitious or merely driven, doing their thing but never our paths did cross.